It is extremely rare that I am reminded that I am out of touch with a few things in India; rare because it is my business to stay on top of the goings-on. One area I recently felt woefully out of touch with concerns the dramatic transformation of the bicycle industry in India.
I was browsing on a few websites for some bicycles that a friend wants to gift in India. The image of a cycle that was at the back of my mind for reference was still circa late 1960s/early 70s. It was the old Hercules brand bike that we had at home, of the kind you see in the illustration above. It was a great bike that was carefully deprived of any superficial trimmings that might suggest elegance over pure functionality. Its frame was sturdy, made of black lacquered iron tubes, its handlebar stainless steel, its front brakes solid black rubber, its crankset solid, greased iron teethed-wheel and chain and its seat leather. It was a particularly high bike which couldn’t be ridden by children. It had a dynamo that spun against the rear wheel to power the headlight in front. We cleaned it regularly and with such vigor that every part glistened.
Bicycles were not a vehicle meant for sporty recreation then but dreary survival, which it still is for millions. Ill-clad men wearing polyester trousers and shirts in Ahmedabad’s humiliating heat rode bicycles with their handkerchiefs on the seat and around their necks to protect their clothes from a salt deposit caused by profuse sweat. I vividly remember men with massive salt rings on the seat of their pants after they completed their ride to their destination. In short, cycling was not even remotely equated with fun.
However, looking at what is on offer these days (See for instance the one below which is the Kross K- 40 26T Multi Speed Bicycle priced at 6,800 rupees or about $105 dollars today), I couldn’t quite settle down. I told you I was out of touch this one time. 6800 rupees for a bike? I know there are less designer and more everyday bikes available but they too tend to be rather expensive now.
I am all for the plebian conveyance acquiring some panache but growing up one never thought a cycle could look like what you see here. My dated eye still finds it hard to recognize this as a bicycle. Even those modest pant leg cuff clips, which did a fairly efficient job of preventing your pants from getting caught in the crankset, have become so updated. You now get a leg shield. (See the two images below).
The pant leg cuff clips of yore
The leg shield now